UK Govt spends £¾ million on torture cover-up attempt

February 21, 2017

Image of Abdul-hakim Belhaj

The British Government has spent £744,000 in its attempts to ensure a case involving the kidnap and torture of a Libyan dissident and his pregnant wife is never heard in court, documents obtained by Reprieve show – even though the victims have offered to drop the claim in return for an apology.

In 2004, the UK organised a joint operation with the CIA in which Abdul-hakim Belhaj, an anti-Gaddafi dissident, and Fatima Boudchar, his wife, were kidnapped, abused and ‘rendered’ to Colonel Gaddafi’s prisons.

The role of senior MI6 officer Sir Mark Allen in the operation came to light in documents which emerged following the fall of Gaddafi in 2011.  In 2012, Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar brought a legal case against the UK Government over the part it played in their ordeal, which reached the Supreme Court last year.

However, the Government argued that the case should not be heard because the operation was undertaken jointly with the US – an argument which was rejected last month by the UK Supreme Court.  Documents obtained by Reprieve under Freedom of Information show that the Government had spent £744,174.92 on legal costs associated with this attempt to stop the case receiving a hearing – even though the couple have offered to drop the case in return for an apology, an offer which ministers have consistently rejected.

The rendition took place in the same month as then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s ‘Deal in the Desert’ with Colonel Gaddafi, which established much closer relations between the two countries.

During the ordeal, Ms Boudchar, who was five months pregnant at the time, was held in a secret CIA prison or ‘black site,’ chained to the wall, and subsequently taped tightly, head to foot, to a stretcher.  Mr Belhaj was subjected to years of imprisonment and torture under the Gaddafi regime.

Documents found in the office of Moussa Koussa – Gaddafi’s spy chief – show Sir Mark claiming credit for the operation, pointing out that the intelligence which enabled it was British.

Cori Crider, a lawyer for rendition and torture victims at international human rights charity Reprieve said:

“The government has wasted a staggering sum of public money in this case – it seems no expense is too great to spare the blushes of the security services.  This is ironic, given that the case could have been over years ago for essentially no money and a simple apology to Mr Belhaj and his wife Fatima.  We very much hope Theresa May will take a second look at the case and realise that there is no sound reason the government cannot just own up and admit that what it did to this family, by getting involved in their kidnap, was wrong. With would-be torturers on the rise in America and elsewhere, there’s no time like the present for a full formal apology.”


Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at]

2. The FOI documents are available on request.